Painstakingly built between the tenth and twelftfth centuries, the zenith or the Golden Age of the Chola Empire, the three temples at Thanjavur Rajarajiswaram, Gangaikondacholiswaram, and Darasuram, stand in mute testimony to an artistic aesthetic that seems to have passed on genetically down the line from father to son to great-great grandson. ThThe brilliant architecture, the highly evolved sculptures, the lavish frescoes and murals, and the exhaustive epigraphs, all vie, one with the other, to evoke in the spectator, a gnawing curiosity to understand what drove the mighty Chola emperors to establish these colossal structures. Did these kings foresee them telling compelling stories several centuries later of their unmatched political and diplomatic genius; their unsurpassed patronage of the arts, literature, and religion; their enviable endowments to temple complexes, and the expansive footprint they have garnered as far away as South East Asia? Did they want to record for posterity the divinity of the Hindu God Shiva ? ThTheir abiding belief that a royal patron should support and nurture whole communities of people – skilled craftftsmen who were not only perfectionists but could breathe life into creations in granite stone, mortar, and bronze; in mud, paint and plaster? We will never quite know for certain.
All three temples, the Rajarajiswaram at Thanjavur, the Gangaikondacholiswaram at Gangaikonda Cholapuram and Airavateswararm at Darasuram, are all living temples located within the Kaveri Delta region, the heart of Chola Empire. The tradition of temple worship and rituals established and practiced over a thousand years ago, based on still older Agamic texts, continues daily, weekly and annually, as an inseparable part of life of the people.